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Gus MacLeod via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Gus MacLeod via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

9 of the Most Isolated Towns on Earth

Gus MacLeod via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Gus MacLeod via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

When residents of these remote communities say they live in the middle of nowhere, they’re not exaggerating. Whether they’re located 1500 miles from the nearest coast or 17,000 feet above sea level, these are nine isolated towns you won't find yourself “just passing through” anytime soon.

1. EDINBURGH OF THE SEVEN SEAS, TRISTAN DA CUNHA

Michael Clarke via WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Located 1243 miles from the nearest settlement, this village on the South Atlantic island of Tristan da Cunha is considered one of the most isolated communities on earth. The town was named in honor of the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to the island in 1867, but today it’s commonly referred to as “The Settlement” by the town’s 300-odd residents. The quickest way to get there is by hitching a six-day boat ride from South Africa, the island’s closest continental neighbor 1491 miles east. In addition to vibrant wildlife, the island is also home to an active volcano at its center. In 1961, the population had to be evacuated to England when it erupted, but thankfully the damage was minimal and most residents returned a few years later.

2. WHITTIER, ALASKA

Jessica Spengler via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

There’s only one road leading in or out of this south Alaskan town, and it passes through a 2.6-mile, single-lane tunnel that shuts down at night. The population spikes during the summer months, but in the winter Whittier claims around 200 residents. Most of the population lives together in a 14-story condominium building called Begich Towers, which is also home to the town's post office, church, and corner store.

3. VILLA LAS ESTRELLAS, ANTARCTICA

One of only two civilian settlements on the entire continent, the island of Villa Las Estrellas has all the components of your quintessential small town. The village of 100 (and even fewer during the winter months) is home to a gym, church, post office, and a gift shop for tourists. The town even boasts internet access, but it's reserved for exclusive use by the school’s three computers.

4. LA RINCONADA, PERU

Sitting nearly 17,000 feet above sea level, La Rinconada in the Peruvian Andes is the highest human settlement on earth. Despite the lack of running water and the dizzying altitude, the town has amassed a population of approximately 50,000. The main draw isn’t the view—it’s the gold mines located beneath the massive La Bella Durimiente glacier above the town.

5. SUPAI VILLAGE, ARIZONA

The Havasupai reservation village of Supai is only accessible by helicopter or by walking the eight-mile trail that connects it to the nearest road. Despite its remote location, the town still manages to attract tourists each year due to its Grand Canyon real estate and its proximity to the photogenic Havasu Falls. Supai remains one of the only spots in the U.S. where mail is still delivered via mule.

6. COOBER PEDY, AUSTRALIA

Remi DU via Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

One hundred years ago, a teenager revolutionized Australia’s opal mining industry when he discovered a gemstone in the remote, southern outback. The unforgiving desert terrain wasn’t exactly an ideal place for a mining town, so in order to make it inhabitable, the homes of Coober Pedy were built underground. Today the population of less than 2000 enjoys access to an underground bar, underground art gallery, and three underground churches. In addition to producing most of the world’s opal, Coober Pedy also draws revenue from curious tourists.

7. LONGYEARBYEN, NORWAY

Bjørn Christian Tørrissen via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The Scandinavian town of Longyearbyen is so far north that it’s closer to the North Pole than it is to Oslo, Norway’s capital. The arctic location makes for chilly temperatures year-round and long winters of unbroken darkness. The houses there are built on stilts in order to keep the underlying permafrost from melting beneath them and becoming unstable.

Despite these harsh conditions, Longyearbyen attracts residents from around the world. Of the town’s fewer than 3000 inhabitants, nearly a third of them are foreigners. The community’s greatest appeal is likely its shockingly low crime rate, which is helped by the fact that it's illegal to live in Longyearbyen without a job or a permanent address. (It’s also illegal to die there, because it’s too cold for bodies to decompose.) And while crime is low, gun ownership is unusually high—but this is primarily to protect against the threat of polar bears. The danger is such an issue that the police enforce a law that anyone straying outside the city limits must carry a weapon and know how to use it.

8. PALMERSTON, COOK ISLANDS

Paul Townsend via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The remote island of Palmerston in the South Pacific was first settled by Englishman William Marsters 150 years ago. Today, all but three of the community’s 62 residents are the direct descendants of Marsters and his three Polynesian wives (who happened to be cousins). Part of the Cook Islands, Palmerston is made up of sandy islets connected by a circular coral reef, which sits too close to the surface for sea planes to land safely. The ocean outside the ring is too rough, so the island is only accessible by boat. In addition to reaching Palmerston by yacht or tourist ship, visitors can also try hitching a ride on the cargo ship that delivers supplies to the island twice a year.

9. SIWA OASIS, EGYPT

Heksamarre via Wikimedia Commons

As is the case with any true oasis, getting to Siwa is no picnic. Surrounded by hundreds of kilometers of empty Saharan desert, the remote village is best reached by hired car or an overnight bus trip from Cairo. Tourists still make the trek to experience the community’s idyllic palm groves, olive orchards, and fresh water springs. Only this year was a solar power plant erected in the town to provide electricity. There is no cell phone service, and the oasis’s isolated position has allowed the inhabitants’s tribal Berber culture to remain largely unchanged throughout the centuries.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
6 Priceless Treasures Lost in Shipwrecks
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In the lore around treasures lost at sea, most of the excitement goes to pirate’s gold and the sunken luxuries of the Titanic. But in the centuries of human seafaring, many lesser-known priceless objects, from literary manuscripts to scientific research, have been claimed by the depths. Here are some tales of those losses, from a lifetime of work by a 19th-century woman who was an expert in cephalopods, to a rare book by Dickens that went down with the Lusitania.

1. LOUIS DE JAUCOURT'S ANATOMICAL LEXICON

Always, always, always back up your work. Of course, that's easier now than it was in the 18th century, when French scholar Louis de Jaucourt dispatched his six-volume Lexicon medicum universale to his Amsterdam publisher, a move intended to evade French censorship. The medical dictionary, on which he'd spent 20 years, was completely lost when the ship it was on sank off Holland's coast. Luckily, Jaucourt rebounded when Denis Diderot asked him to contribute to the Encyclopédie, now considered one of the greatest works of Enlightenment thought, for which he used his notes from the lost manuscript. Jaucourt became the publication's most prolific author, penning 40,000 articles—so many he was nicknamed l'esclave de l’Encyclopédie, or the "slave of the Encyclopedia."

2. THE FIELDWORK OF ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE

Portrait of Alfred Russel Wallace, Welsh naturalist and explorer
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1852, following four years of research in the Amazon, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was ready to return to England. He loaded his copious notes, animal and plant specimens, and drawings onto the brig Helen. Just 26 days into the voyage, the vessel caught fire. Wallace only had time to hastily fill a tin box with a few drawings of fish and palms and some scientific notes before joining the crew in the lifeboat. After 10 days marooned at sea, they were rescued by the brig Jordeson—but most of Wallace's work was gone forever. As he lamented in an October 19, 1852 letter, "The only things which I saved were my watch, my drawings of fishes, and a portion of my notes and journals. Most of my journals, notes on the habits of animals, and drawings of the transformations of insects, were lost.” While he continued as a leading naturalist—albeit one overshadowed in his evolution research by Charles Darwin—Wallace was never able to reconstruct those years of fieldwork.

3. THE CEPHALOPOD RESEARCH OF JEANNE VILLEPREUX-POWER

Before Jeanne Villepreux-Power’s 19th-century research, most scientists thought the Argonauta argo, or paper nautilus, scavenged its shell from other animals. But by inventing the modern aquarium, Villepreux-Power could study the species first-hand, and witness how it grows and repairs its own shell. The breakthrough was one of many discoveries made by the pioneer in cephalopod research, one of the few women to achieve prominence in Victorian science. She might be better known today if it weren't for the fact that when she and her husband decided to move from Sicily to London, the vessel on which they’d shipped their possessions—including the majority of her drawings, notes, and equipment—foundered off the coast of France in 1843. After the devastating loss, she never published again.

4. A COPY OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL OWNED BY CHARLES DICKENS

Sinking of the Lusitania
Three Lions/Getty Images

When Boston bookseller Charles Lauriat realized the RMS Lusitania was doomed that fateful day in 1915, he dashed to his cabin, using the light from a few matches to try to find the literary treasures he’d brought aboard. These included original drawings by Vanity Fair author William Makepeace Thackeray, as well as an edition of A Christmas Carol owned by Charles Dickens himself. The edition was irreplaceable, since it included Dickens’s notes related to his 1844 copyright suit against the illicit republishing of his story. In the book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson vividly describes Lauriat’s harrowing experience when the ocean liner was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland: Lauriat grabbed the leather briefcase containing the Dickens, but left the Thackeray sketches behind. Rushing out to the deck, he saw a lifeboat packed with women and children that was being dragged down by the sinking ship. He jumped in with the briefcase, yet was unable to free the lifeboat, and in the escape into the water he lost the precious cargo. Out in the waves, he managed to evade entanglement with an antenna, swim to a collapsible lifeboat, and survive. One of the few items he managed to save were photographs of his baby, which he told his wife were his "mascot."

5. WRITINGS OF JOSÉ ASUNCIÓN SILVA

Portrait of José Asunción Silva

Many Colombians can recite the first lines from the influential Modernist poet José Asunción Silva's "Nocturne III"—"A night / A night full of hushings, of the curled wool of perfume / And incanting wing"—and it’s even printed in microtext on the 5000 Colombian peso bill. The poem, written in 1892, is believed to be a tribute to Silva’s half-sister. Silva suffered another blow in 1895, when many of his manuscripts, including a draft of a novel, were lost in a shipwreck. He left his diplomatic post in Venezuela, and dedicated all his time to reconstructing the drowned novel. But his melancholy continued: After visiting a doctor to ask the exact position of his heart, he shot himself in 1896. His rewritten novel—After-Dinner Conversation (De sobremesa) —wasn’t published until 1925.

6. THE ART OF GIOVANNI BATTISTA LUSIERI

The South-east Corner of the Parthenon, Athens by Giovanni Battista Lusieri
Giovanni Battista Lusieri, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Giovanni Battista Lusieri was a meticulous painter of the Italian landscape, particularly its classical ruins. In large panoramas and more compact watercolors, he depicted the Acropolis, views of Rome and Naples, and, his favorite, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Some of his most striking works captured the volcano at night, illuminating the darkness with its orange glow. Lord Byron called him "an Italian painter of the first eminence." Yet his name is now obscure. This is partly due to the years he stopped painting to help Lord Elgin remove and ship the Parthenon Marbles to London. But when Lusieri's artwork was being sent home from Greece after his death in 1821, a shipwreck destroyed nearly half of it (including a spectacular 25-foot-long panorama of Athens), helping to ensure his fall from fame.

BONUS: PEKING MAN

A replica of the Peking Man Skull
A replica of the Peking Man Skull

When paleontologists discovered the bones of "Peking man" in a dig near Beijing in the 1920s, they were the oldest hominid fossils ever found. However, scientists can now only study the bones—thought to be about half a million years old—from casts. The Peking Man fossils were last seen in December 1941, but vanished during the Japanese occupation of China while they were being sent to the United States for safekeeping. There are many conjectures on their fate, from being secretly stored away in Japan, to being under a parking lot in China. Yet one enduring theory is that they were lost at sea on the Japanese freighter Awa Maru: In 1945, the ship was torpedoed in the Taiwan Strait by the USS Queenfish despite being guaranteed safe passage by the United States, leading to the loss of more than 2000 lives—and, it's said, the priceless Peking fossils [PDF].

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Animals
7 Cases of Mistaken Dog Identity
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For decades, an enduring urban and internet legend has provided a cautionary tale for people seeking to adopt a pet. While details vary according to the storyteller, it goes something like this: A woman on vacation takes pity on a stray, hairless dog she finds in dire shape. Bringing him home, he doesn’t seem to respond to generous helpings of food and verbal assurance that he's a good boy. Instead, he’s rather aggressive. Taking him to the vet, she realizes she didn’t pick up a dog at all but a massive, sewer-dwelling rat.

While a delightful story, it's probably not true. These cases are. Take a look at seven people who experienced some alarming examples of animals they thought were dogs, and dogs they thought were other animals.

1. THE FOX IS NOT A HOUND

A screen capture of a fox that resembles a dog
Rachel White, YouTube

As contemporary pet breeding produces new strains of Franken-pups, it’s likely people will continue to be confused by animals that resemble exotic breeds. Case in point: In May 2018, a woman purchased what she thought was a Japanese Spitz puppy from a pet shop in China. With its long, pointed snout and fluffy coat, the dog at first appeared to be an adorable addition to the household. Within three months, however, it stopped eating dog food and began to sprout a long tail. Strangely, it also never barked. Its owner thought it might just be quiet and finicky, but a local zoo confirmed she had actually purchased a fox, which the Japanese Spitz is said to resemble. The animal’s new forever home is behind fencing at the zoo’s fox habitat.

2. CHARLIE THE LABRA-LION

Hysteria briefly gripped citizens of Norfolk, Virginia in 2013, when a rash of calls to 911 reported a lion loose within the city limits. One caller described it as a “baby lion,” while another believed it to be the size of a Labrador retriever. Close. The “lion” was a Labradoodle named Charlie, who got regular grooming visits that gave him a mane and improved his regal stature. His owner shaved him to resemble a sports mascot at Old Dominion University.

3. THE COYOTE AND THE SAMARITAN

When an unnamed resident of Bartlett, Illinois drove past a cowering animal on a busy stretch of roadway in May 2018, the person stopped and swept up what was believed to be a lost dog. Driving to the local police department, the resident dropped the alleged puppy off, only to discover that the rescue had been in the service of a coyote. The baby was taken to Willowbrook Wildlife for safekeeping.

4. A BEAR TO DEAL WITH

Despite the propaganda pushed by cartoons, bears are generally difficult to live with and might devour younger members of the household without warning. No one would likely live with one on purpose. By accident? That’s another story. In 2016, a family in the Yunnan province of China adopted what they believed was a Tibetan Mastiff puppy, a stout and noble breed. To their slowly-dawning surprise, it turned out it wasn’t a dog at all but an Asiatic black bear cub that skyrocketed to over 250 pounds in a matter of months. He also had a tendency to stand on his hind legs, a trait domesticated canines still lack. The family reached out to authorities and the bear—which is a protected species in China—was relocated to a sanctuary.

5. THE CAT MISTAKEN FOR A DOG

A screen capture of a cat with hypertrichosis
Moony strangecat, YouTube

Your standard orange tabby cats don’t have this problem, but certain feline breeds can wind up experiencing a real identity crisis. Snookie, a three-year-old Persian in Canada, has hypertrichosis, a condition sometimes referred to as “werewolf syndrome” because it causes excessive growth of hair, nails, and whiskers. As a result of her fluffed-up and rotund face, Snookie is often confused for a Shih Tzu puppy.

6. ACCIDENTALLY ADOPTING A WOLF

A wolf cub sits next to its mother
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It could happen to anyone. In 2016, a man in Arizona responded to an ad giving away a free “puppy” and took it home. The animal’s owner was sufficiently charmed by his new pet’s adorable face that he didn’t notice the pup, which he named Neo, avoided eye contact and didn’t seem to have much use for dog treats. When the man built a fence to prevent Neo from cavorting with the neighborhood dogs, the animal dug under it. When a neighbor took Neo to the local Humane Society for trespassing, officials discovered it was a wolf—an illegal animal to own without proper permits. Properly identified, Neo was relocated to a sanctuary named Wolf Connection.

7. THE RACCOON-DOG HYBRID

A tanuki dog resembles a raccoon
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The exotic animal trade in the UK has been trafficking tanukis, or raccoon dogs, for some time now. True to their name, the wild dogs resemble raccoons but are related to wolves and foxes. Unsuspecting owners purchase them for novelty’s sake, not realizing that they’re prone to wiping out frog populations and carrying hookworm and fatal fox tapeworms. Since they're nocturnal, they’ll also keep households up at night. Raccoon dogs are easily confused with actual raccoons and at least one distressed owner was afraid his pet would be harmed due to the likeness when his pet, Kekei, escaped in 2015. In the U.S., the only tanukis in residence are located in an Atlanta zoo. If you see a raccoon this large, run.

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